Traces of Time

Traces of time

The early photographs took long exposures and very slow speed settings to capture an image. One of the first photographers to do this was Joseph Niepce who is today, celebrated as the inventor of photography.  As time and development of being able to capture light became less time consuming, the need for long exposures was slowly being reduced.

With the development of the camera, and film processing advancement, creativity was boundless. Moving from only being able to produce black and white images, that were not so sharp,  to colour and the illusion of movement.  Eadweard Muybridge, an early pioneer of photography and well known for his work with moving images. A BBC Channel 4 documentary, goes onto explain how he managed to capture the movements, by taking a series of photographs using numerous cameras. (Click here for link to documentary)

BBC – Extract from ‘Fixing the Shadows’, Genius of Photography (Wall to Wall) ‘On a specially whitened out section of track, Muybridge placed a row of 24 cameras with electric shutters, which would be triggered in sequence, four every second, as the horse passed by. By this means, Muybridge did more than freeze the moment; he took a scalpel to time itself.’

Development of moving pictures may have been quite different, as Muybridge, at the height of his work with film, he was accused of murdering his wife’s lover, but was acquitted to a verdict of justifiable homicide. This was not the only stumbling block that he suffered. Although British born, be travelled to America, this is were he suffered a head injury after a stagecoach accident which left him with confusion and double vision. On recovery, he travelled america, producing landscapes of the Yosemite Valley, a place that was a catalyst for Ansel Adams and then onto Alaska, recoding life of the indigenous people there, the Tlingit people. His famous photograph of a galloping horse, proving that all 4 feet are off the ground at the same time, was the result of a bet.

AM Worthington, followed Muybridges work. In his book, The Splash of a Drop, he goes into the physics of how a the resulting drop with play out. This is when shutter speed really came into its own, producing what is arguably works of art. Harold Edgertons famous print of the milk coronet, is widely publicised in the LIFE magazine. This would have excited photographers of the day.

In todays terms, The ability to freeze movement to a fraction of a second has been reinforced with the use of modern technology and the on going development of the digital camera. Conveying motion, can add flair and enhance an image. Water falls are often taken with a slow shutter speed, blurring the movement of water, but capturing the droplets as they fall, will bring a sharp focus on the moment the water fell, freezing an action.  Freezing the action, does not mean that the whole image should be sharp. Taking an image of a fast moving racing car, can be both sharp and have motion blur. In one instance, the car would be sharp and the background blurred, or the other way around, with the car a blur and the background sharp. Both are a moment on time and depict movement.

Free Downloadable version of The Splash of a Drop by AM Worthington 

Part 3 Project 1 Exercise 3.1

Cyanotype & Daguerreotype

More on Early Photography with Joseph Niepce 

Michael Wesley




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